Note: This is a guest post from Margi at Freespace Professional Organizing
My name is Margaret (although my friends call me Margi) and I love French press coffee, travel, interior design, and great food, not necessarily in that order. I stumbled on Rachel’s blog recently and instantly loved the vibe here… Nourishing Minimalism. We live in a culture that is obsessed with extremes, and that can include lifestyle choices like minimalism. Living a stripped-down life, just to simply get by with as little as possible, does not have the same positive effect as pursuing minimalism in the sense that we pursue only what nourishes us and helps us thrive.
“Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it” -Joshua Becker
We are getting so close to the start of our fourth year of homeschooling our 4 kids – ages 14, 11, 7, and 5 – and I cannot believe how fast these last three years have flown. I’m an INFJ and a Highly Sensitive Person, which could have spelled disaster for any mom of 4, and so nearly has at times since we started schooling at home.
But also, being an HSP has had a huge impact on my decision to pursue a life of minimalism. When I started homeschooling I noticed that I had a hard time focusing and being productive with clutter around me. I started being more intentional with keeping tables and other furniture clear of all but essentials and an item or two that inspired me.
I found that having too many curriculum options overwhelmed me and halted our progress, and that when we halted and felt overwhelmed, I retreated into a reclusive state of constantly feeling like it was not enough. Like I was not enough. We all felt anything BUT nourished.
It was never a conscious decision for me to become a minimalist, but gradually over the last 5 years since my 4th child was born, I realized I would have to stay on top of the kids’ belongings or we would soon be drowning in our stuff.
Going through clothing, toys, and kitchen gadgets came naturally to me, but curriculum and homeschool supplies were too tempting and easy to hoard. After all, I wanted the best education for my kids, didn’t I? And all these great authors, philosophies, and teaching aids weren’t that big an investment when I scoured the swap and buy groups online.
So when we started homeschooling, I bought every single version of the highly esteemed books I’d heard so much about. I was well equipped to teach these kids the best possible way that I could. We were set up to learn in a classical, Charlotte Mason, traditional, Montessori, or unschooling style, or a combination of all the above.
I joined all the Facebook groups and bought all the books by homeschooling gurus to guide me; we set up a designated schoolroom complete with shiny new Ikea desks and shelving for all these new books. WE. WERE. SET. For failure, that is.
With no specific direction and way too many options, we floundered a lot as we tried to figure out how to incorporate all the amazing resources we had.
We all won when I finally figured out that was an impossible feat and the kids would actually learn better with a simpler, more focused approach.
It took me at least 3 years to learn most of these homeschool hacks, but it has made such a difference in our home and learning environment.
Ditch the classroom
For awhile, we loved our little classroom and curriculum choices. For the first month we rode the wave of novelty and preparedness – that’s what I called the overbuying of school supplies – “preparedness.” Ha.
It didn’t take long until I felt anything but prepared. Mornings would start ok but then spiral out of control as I fought waves of depression over the “too-much-ness” of it all. The little school room began to feel dark and claustrophobic and we started to dread starting each school day.
I knew we needed to change something. We moved the kids out of the little room that now felt too dark, and into the big bright playroom with huge windows. We moved the desks into a new configuration and settled in for the transformation we were confident would happen. The room looked picture-perfect; my Instagram followers all said so. And I wanted to love it so much. But it was in the basement and all my other work was upstairs.
I was in a constant battle between what I felt I needed to accomplish in the day for housework, and being near the kids as they did schoolwork. I did justice to neither.
When we resumed school after spring break this year, I told the kids we were done with “school at home” and we would now do most of our book learning around the kitchen table. I’d resisted this so long. I loved the Pinterest pictures of dedicated school rooms with carefully thought out bulletin boards, rainbow coloured inspirational posters, and alphabet borders along the ceiling. I felt like I was a “real” teacher if our classroom was Pinterest or Instagram worthy, or if it looked like it was plucked out of the mainstream school down the street.
But it just wasn’t working and by now the kids were eager to try school around the table. We didn’t all love it the first couple of days. It was hard, adjusting to all 5 of us around the 3×6’ table, with the preschooler not having any concept of being quiet so her brothers could study. But it grew on me quickly. I felt involved in the kids’ thought processes while still folding laundry or starting lunch. I could work on my professional organizing business right at the table without really skipping a beat.
It became this natural progression – breakfast…school…lunch…art… and I loved it!
Utilize the local library
I still hadn’t fully addressed the overabundance of curriculum spewing out of various bookcases and cupboards. I started weeding out some supplies we hadn’t touched in 3 years. Some of these items I really liked and wanted to try, but in all honesty just didn’t fit into our style or learning needs.
I looked at all these books that we so rarely (if ever) touched and I knew it made so much more sense to sell them, recoup at least a portion of the cost (school books are not cheap!) and in the future just plan to hit the library when we need resources.
Most books aren’t needed beyond the 3 weeks limit from the library, it costs nothing more than the annual membership ($25 for our whole family per year), and I don’t need to find a place to store them.
It’s also a great idea, especially living in a small town like I do, to donate some of these great books to the library. The whole community benefits, and I still have access to my books!
Find a storage area and work within that boundary of space
We have a buffet cabinet beside the dining table, and I thought to myself, ‘What if we could fit all of our school supplies in here, and keep it really simple and local?’ I set out to do just that.
I pared everything way down… the stack of 1000 sheets of construction paper from Costco? Down to maybe 50 sheets. I mean we like art, but that’s ridiculous!
All these books that are supposed to be so “key” in finding my groove in homeschooling? I haven’t cracked them open in 3 years. I find I’ve used the internet a lot more and my e-reader is my best friend. If I REALLY need a physical copy of these books, I live 2 minutes from the library.
Currently everything fits into my dining room furniture except science experiments and larger art supplies. I can see at a glance what we have and every single book has a spot on our schedule.
If you don’t have an immediate or specific plan, don’t buy it
I determined that no matter how good a deal something is, if I won’t use it in the current school year, I won’t buy it. In other words, no stockpiling.
My husband has a favourite quote:
“I can’t afford to save that much”
And I completely agree.
An item on sale, no matter how incredible the deal is, is not a deal if the item isn’t needed. This fully applies to homeschool supplies. I get so distracted by bright shiny books but it’s never worth it in the end when the budget or space has other ideas.
As we gear up for the upcoming school year, I’m at peace. I don’t feel stressed or overwhelmed. I feel revived and ready to take on the new year, and my house is a much cleaner, calmer place.